Millais in London

When I was 12 or 13, I joined a local film society, being the youngest member by at least 20 years. I still remember the films I saw there: L’Assamoire, L’Etranger, Animal Farm, Odd Man Out, Battleship Potemkin, et al. Before each film, a short documentary was shown, followed by a talk about the main feature. And that is when I discovered the pre-Raphaelites, and in particular Millais, in a wonderful short film about the movement that I remember to this day. 

I didn’t know anything at that time about Bubbles, the main reason for people to sneer at Millais, and to me this picture is an irrelevance. My love of Millais and his contemporaries was, and is, due to the beautiful evocations of the classics and Shakespeare. This is why I am looking forward to seeing the Millais exhibition currently in London: see Millais’s high drama and low designs – Times Online. The picture of Ophelia has special meaning for me, and is so well-described in the article at the link:

"This discomfiting fascination with the relationship between human bodies and what they are in – both clothes and setting – is one of Millais’s distinctive qualities. Through all the variations in style and genre which this exhibition amply documents, he remains absorbed by the idea that a setting can become a kind of vesture, the vesture project an image, and the image tally uneasily with the human being to whom it is attached. No character has been more comprehensively sunk into a natural setting than Ophelia, and yet the effect of this is the opposite, it seems to me, of that suggested in the exhibition’s detailed and generally perceptive catalogue: “the depicted cycles of growth, maturation and display doubly absorb Ophelia into a natural process, and render her insignificant”. Of course the silver flowery embroidery of her dress mingles with the stream and connects with the sprays of white dog rose above; and the purple loosestrife on the bank calls out to the poppies, violets and daisies of her bouquet now scattered on the water. But this weaving of pretty patterns will not assimilate the bare bits of her moribund body which stick up above the surface: her cupped hands, which are shaped like lily flowers but whose cold fleshiness repels the thought of the comparison as soon as it occurs; her lips, which are not at all like an opening bud; her cheeks, which are pink but hardly rosy. The painting sets up and worries at a contrast between what can be taken as decoration – leaves, flowers, and dress material – and what, here at least, cannot: the woman’s body."

Jim Watson retires

"Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today [25 October] announced that Dr. James D. Watson, 79, has retired after nearly 40 years of distinguished service to CSHL. He had stepped down as President of CSHL in 2003 and most recently served as Chancellor." No reason is given for this annoucement. Here is part of Nature‘s editorial this week (free access: see Nature 449, 948; 2007) published yesterday, before the CSHL announcement:

"So ‘Honest Jim’ Watson has finally fallen victim to his notorious propensity for making outrageous statements — forced to cancel a UK lecture tour and suspended from his leadership role at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York after being quoted in a British newspaper as claiming that black people are less intelligent and employable than whites…… Scientists with controversial arguments need to be able to withstand the heat, defending or retracting statements as the evidence indicates is required. Watson, however unpleasant his utterances, has always been willing to act in this spirit. The cancellations run the risk of playing into the hands of those who wish to suppress scientific inquiry. Many human geneticists are engaged in the sensitive task of unravelling differences between the world’s population groups, all the while acknowledging that ‘race’ is an emotive and unscientific word. Others are investigating the equally sensitive genetics of ‘desirable’ traits, such as cognitive ability. Asking such questions has always been controversial, given the potential for abuse of the outcomes demonstrated by the history of eugenics. Scientists explore the world as it is, rather than as they would like it to be."

(See the Nature reference above for the full text of the editorial.)

Poverty and human development

Cross-posted at Nautilus:

The Council of Science Editors has organized journals around the globe to participate in its 2007 Global Theme Issue on Poverty and Human Development. Hundreds of journals are publishing articles related to the scientific and medical issues that surround this theme. The Nature journals are pleased to contribute the content highlighted on this page, all of which is free. We have also created a supporting archive comprising previously published content from the Nature Publishing Group that is relevant to this theme.
See here for the Poverty and Human Development index page.